Many diabetes myths abound: “Can you eat that?” “Won’t you get sick if you eat sugar?” “Did you get it from overeating?” Time to set the record straight for people who are bouncing those reality checks….
1. Misconception: People with diabetes are fat
FACT: You can’t tell by looking. Some diabetic people are overweight, and some overweight people are diabetic. But 85% of non-diabetic people are overweight, too. Type 1s are actually more active on average than the general population, as are many Type 2s.
2. Misconception: Eating too much causes diabetes
FACT: Consuming more energy (food) than you use leads your body to store it as fat — which leads to weight gain. Some people’s bodies eventually resist storing more energy, and dump it into the bloodstream. That’s often associated with type 2 diabetes.
But some type 2s are NOT overweight, and many obese or overweight people continue to store energy as fat and never develop Type 2. Assuming one causes the other is like saying that driving too fast ruins your engine — only to find that slow drivers have ruined engines also.
3. Misconception: People with diabetes did it to themselves
FACT: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. For unknown reasons, the body’s immune system attacks and suppresses or kills the cells that produce insulin.
While body weight and inactivity increase the likelihood that Type 2 will develop, they’re not the only influences. Type 2 also has a strong inherited component, and sometimes it develops for no obvious reason — in active people at healthy weights, with no family history of diabetes.
Many health conditions: cancer, asthma, fibromyalgia, etc. — may be made better or worse by lifestyle choices. Yet we don’t blame people for causing their own asthma or ovarian cancer.
4. Misconception: People with diabetes can’t eat sugar
FACT: Short of allergies, anyone can eat anything. Sugar provides a lot of energy in a fast-acting package. Unless you’re exercising frequently and vigorously, you shouldn’t be eating a lot of sugar whether or NOT you’re diabetic.
When people with diabetes eat fast-acting carbohydrates, they have to offset it with the right amount of insulin or oral meds. And since sugar hits the bloodstream within 15 or 20 minutes,, and injected insulin or oral meds can take much longer to “kick in”, most diabetics limit portion sizes of sugary foods to minimize post-meal blood sugar spikes.
When someone with diabetes “goes low”, they’ve got too much insulin on board without enough blood sugar to balance it. This is extremely dangerous. In this situation, people with diabetes MUST have some form of sugar immediately or they will eventually lose consciousness, experience brain damage, and even die.
5. Misconception: People with diabetes aren’t active (enough)
FACT: Most people aren’t active enough, diabetic or otherwise. But we are. And we’re not alone.
There are professional and elite amateur cycling teams for adults and kids composed entirely of people with diabetes. People with diabetes have run solo across the continental US, qualified for Olympic marathon trials, and run 260-mile ultramarathons. People with diabetes have completed marathons, double-century bike rallies, Ironman triathlons, played in the NBA, NFL and NHL, climbed mountains (yes, including Everest), run across the Sahara Desert, hiked the backcountry for weeks at a time, and done just about everything else you can think of.
6. Misconception: Diabetes is no big deal as long as you take your meds
FACT: Diabetes changes your life, forever. For most people, once you’re diagnosed you’ll never again be free of the need to make literally dozens of tiny decisions (and if we’re brutally honest, wild-ass guesses) throughout the day and night to try to keep your blood sugars within a fairly normal range. There is never, ever a vacation from diabetes. “Normal” for people with diabetes means constant attention to every bite of food, every bit of physical activity, in a neverending and inevitably only somewhat successful effort to try to keep blood sugars within normal levels.
The truth is that no matter how hard you try, you never get it completely right. Insulin and oral meds are essential, but they’re imperfect, partial answers, not silver bullets. The disease means that our bodies don’t regulate themselves properly, even when we do all the right things, and despite constant effort. This is why we need a CURE.
7. Misconception: Diabetes can be cured or reversed with (insert supplement name here)
FACT: It can be treated, and lifestyle is a critical part of that treatment. Some Type 2’s can even experience remission with lifestyle changes and stop taking meds. But there is no cure. Not by supplements, not by “just eating less,” and definitely not by spreading false information.
8. Misconception: Diabetics are “addicted” to insulin and wouldn’t need it if they exercised self-control
FACT: Many people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes follow very careful diets, but they still have to have insulin or oral medications to help their bodies store and use energy from the food they take in. Without insulin, all type 1s would die within a matter of days or weeks. Not from addiction, but from starvation, as their bodies are unable to use any of the food they eat without insulin.
9. Misconception: Diabetes only happens to old people
FACT: Diabetes can happen to anyone at any time. Type 1 has a genetic component, and Type 2 may have one as well. It’s not clear why some people’s pancreases “wear out”, but it has nothing to do with old age.
10. Misconception: There is a “good kind” and a “bad kind” of diabetes
All diabetes is bad. And nobody asked for it.
We’d love to hear your favorite diabetes myths. Drop us an email at email@example.com.